築地市場 (Tsukiji Fish Market) in Tsukiji, Tokyo is the world’s busiest fish market.
Early in the morning, the workers in the market are quickly running around busy getting the fresh catch from the fishing vessels to the auction in the back of the market.
The seafood needs to get from the ocean to the restaurants and stores quickly while it’s fresh. So, the market is full of staff moving around quickly on foot and carts.
It’s a place of business, not a tourist attraction.
The people there are workers doing their job…not putting on a show.
But, the Tsukiji Fish Market has become a popular destination for foreign visitors to Tokyo.
Especially the early morning fish auction.
Even many of the famous celebrities who have visited Tokyo visited Tsukiji Market.
Foreign tourists didn’t used to pose a problem…before the internet when many people didn’t know about this market. Back then there were relatively few people checking out the market and the auction…so the workers didn’t mind them coming to look, taking a photo or two and going for “sushi breakfast” after the auction at one of the nearby 24-hour sushi restaurants that serve extremely fresh sashimi.
I have visited the market and auction a couple times as a “tour guide” to visitors to Tokyo.
But now, the internet has made this market very well-known outside of Japan and many visitors to Tokyo make plans to see it.
The problem is, though, the embarrassing behavior of a growing number of tourists at the market.
Twice so far, the market has set temporary bans to foreign visitors due to rude behavior such as arriving in a dangerous condition (ie: intoxicated, wearing high heels, bringing babies).
As I mentioned above, Tsukiji Market isn’t a tourist attraction…it’s a busy work site. No place for drunk people, high heels or babies.
Also, a number of tourists smoke cigarettes near the seafood…and some have even taking liberties such handling the fish.
The market was most recently closed to visitors just last month. Many of the workers would like it to stay that way…but the Japanese government wants more tourists from overseas to visit Japan, so they can’t keep the market off-limits to visitors indefinitely since it’s so popular.
So the ban to visitors was lifted yesterday…but with a few new regulations.
Now, anyone who wants to see the fish auction must check in with the information desk and be given a special green vest.
Only two groups of 70 people each will be permitted to enter the auction area each day. And they must stay with a roped-off area.
Also, there are many signs up in different languages that says things such as “No Flash Photography“, “No Smoking” and “No Touching The Fish Or Seafood“.
Yesterday was the first day that visitors were re-allowed into the market with the new rules…but already every rule was broken at least once!
Someone went into the auction without a green vest, some people walked past the ropes, many people took photos with flash, some people touched the fish and some people were caught smoking.
I know that most people behave appropriately when they visit another country…but the ones that don’t embarrass the rest of us!